I was always the writer.
My earliest memory is of sitting in bed devising a book about a killer whale and a stowaway on a ship but I never got past the opening scene – I think the book was called Black Manta. Very Captain Blood and a lot of storms at sea and swords and chases by a whale that had a horn sticking out of its head. I never wrote it because I guess I lost the desire. I also lacked ability to carry out my vision, something that took me another 40 years to understand.
But my young writing career continued. In fifth grade my class published the Central School Gazette in which I interviewed a new teacher and made special note that she lived with “several dead goldfish.” That’s what she told me. I had to quote her exactly - it was good reporting, right?
In sixth grade my marvelous teacher had the entire class finish a short story I had started – I can’t recall how it all came about – but there I was, reading over the 20 or so pieces of yellow-lined paper to select what I thought was the right ending. I have no clue what my original story was about but I think it had a giraffe in it.
In eighth grade I became indignant that I was not chosen as editor of the official school newspaper. They wanted a cheerleader – a cheerleader to take the helm. She wasn’t a writer. I was the writer. Hadn’t they seen my opus, my story about a family in outer space that read suspiciously like Lost in Space but was infinitely better? (My family was called the Glendales – very suburban, middle class.)** Funny. I can’t remember if I was chosen editor – or even a member of the staff. But I think I was happy enough to have rallied for my story to be published.
In high school I was consumed with writing a book in which I was eventually to make into a movie and star in the lead role (or so it went in my head). I descended on my English teacher and remember him taking time with me after school to help plot it. Mr. Harrison. How tolerant and patient of him. Again, my vision outdid my talent.
Through all of my starts and stops people knew exactly what I was and showed that they believed in me. And I always got what I wanted. Oh, to stay in that comfy world forever. It all came to a screeching halt once I stepped outside that parochial zone into the Big World of Writing. Pushing and pushing and pushing didn’t get me anywhere. I became discouraged.
In retrospect, I’d like to blame this on Marion Zimmer Bradley – who rejected I don't know how many of my short stories for her fantasy magazine - as soon as I received one rejection I was at the computer churning out another - along with DAW Books, who rejected that book that I’d been writing since high school. But the truth was, I got tired and backed away for a very long time - maybe 14 years. While I wrote for a living as a newspaper reporter and then an editor, I was no longer known as a writer in the sense that I wanted to express and impart some of my imagination and vision on the world.
People say you have to push relentlessly in order to get published. Keep on doing it. Keep on writing. I say you can’t control burn out. It’s OK to back away for a while – regroup, refresh and try something different (I took up art) – and then, when you’ve discovered there’s more to life, you can get back to it in the knowledge that you are the writer you are because of all the things and experiences that have molded you.
Someone once said to me they thought it was hard to write a book. I replied it was easy to write a book. It’s very hard to write a good book. And writing a good book can take longer, unfortunately, than it takes to power up a computer and receive the instant satisfaction of seeing a blog you’ve written up on the screen.
A writer, like a river, runs through it; he hits bumps, ebbs, flows, twists, turns, dries out, floods, nurtures, breeds life, brings death, enhances the scenery, conveys, transports, and transforms landscapes, at the same time, it – life – does the same to the writer. Sometimes you fight the current; others, you let it take you where it wants.
** I’d love to share my riotous grammar-school prose but I can’t locate this story after ransacking the house for the better part of the morning. I’ll continue the search, hoping at some point to uncover it.